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Found this one in the archives. It's a short story I did as an assignment for an advanced composition course in college, circa autumn 1985.

Battle-Hardened Star Marines Strike Back

"They'll be showing up on the scanners any minute now." Buzz Buckburn reached a gloved hand up to the ballistic trajectory displacement computer and flicked several switches with an air of urgency. He turned to the crewman sitting next to him in the cockpit of the small Rebel Alliance stellar escort fighter. "Put the pulsar warp motors up to full power."

His companion reached up to the ceiling control console and turned two red dials as far as they would go. "Pulsar warps on full," said the crewman.

"Arm and prime heavy laser turret," Buzz barked, pulling a series of levers next to his crash-seat.

"Heavy laser turret primed and ready," replied his crewmate.

"Increase ominous background music to forty decibels."

"Ominous background music increased."

"There they are." A few adjustments to the screen controls, and a multitude of blood-red triangles congealed on the viewer, dominating the foward section of the fighter's cockpit. Buzz pressed the magnification panel. "Imperium Death Dragon Probe Drone Destroyers, all right. Looks like at least three hundred of them. Well, they'll get a chance to see how Star Marines fight with glory and honour and willingness to die for God and country if need be, eh Fred?"

Fred stared at Buzz. "That's a really strange thing to say, Buzz."

"Oh?" Buzz looked hurt. "I thought that would be a pretty good line. How about this? Now these Imperial scum will taste the vengeance of our fight against the tyrannical... um..."

"In fact," said Fred, "this whole situation is a little cheesy. How do you expect us to survive against three hundred Imperium Death Dragon Probe Drone Destroyers? We don't even have any big weapons, just those two old photon guns you insist on calling heavy lasers."

Buzz shifted a little in his chair. "Well, I was sort of planning on using derring-do and gallant recklessness to get close to them and then perhaps some roguish death-defying trickery to launch a diversion while we wait for a freak of nature to come by and destroy the Imperial fleet."

Fred folded his arms across his chest. "That's got to be the flimsiest plan I've ever heard."

"Well gee," said Buzz, "it's always worked before."

"I think this is getting very silly. I refuse to get killed just so you can come up with new clichés to deliver."

Buzz's eyes narrowed. "You know, Fred, I've always had my doubts about you. Anyone named Fred Kowalski can't possibly be a real Star Marine." He looked up. "You want to kill the ominous music? I think we're getting a transmission."

The strains of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony were replaced by the crackling of interspacial static from the scanner's loudspeaker. The screen blurred, the view of the scarlet armada faded, and a muddy green form appeared.

"Hey!" came a shout from the laser turret behind the cockpit. "Put Beethoven back on!"

Fred sighed while connecting the background music to the turret's speaker and adjusting the frequency of the forward screen. The green shape focused into a hideous apparition, half-man and half-newt, wearing the uniform of an Imperium admiral. Seeing that the connection had been made, the thing spoke.

"Prepare to die, rebel dogs! You shall taste the vengeance of our righteous struggle against your cowardly rebellious defiance of our glorious empire of might and steel!" The alien admiral leaned toward the screen. "I give you two minutes to surrender before I vapourize your ship."

"Could you excuse us for a few minutes, Commander.. uh... Gonzoll," Buzz replied, reading the name tape on the alien's forehead. "We seem to be having a little personality conflict here."

"Personality conflict?" said Gonzoll, taken aback. "What sort of personality conflict?"

"Fred here seems to think that this is all getting too silly." Buzz cast a sidelong glance at his crewman.

"Ah yes." The admiral nodded knowingly. "The old 'This is all a cliché' syndrome. One of my captains had that problem recently, but we had a little talk and sorted it all out."

"This is ridiculous," Fred broke in. "Here we are faced with three hundred enemy ships and nothing but hope for a plot complication between us and destruction." He turned to the viewscreen. "You Imperial guys are supposed to be so evil. Exactly what is it you do that we want to rebel against you? Nobody ever bothered to tell me that."

"Well..." The alien scratched the end of one nose, then the other. "We often drive very slowly in the passing lanes of interstellar freeways. We hardly ever return borrowed books."

"Not exactly the sort of thing that makes for an evil empire. Don't you do anything worse than that? I've never seen an Imperium trooper do anything really evil," Fred said, waving his arms around.

"Hmmmm. We always cheat on our taxes."

"Still not good enough."

"Oh, I suppose we don't do anything really bad. It's more a sort of evil attitude, I think." Admiral Gonzoll twiddled with a pencil. "Brought on by centuries of civil strife and the anguish caushed by a lack of progress in various social reforms, no doubt. Perhaps if we worked at it we could come up with something truly nasty. In the meantime, I'll let you clear things up over there. I do so dislike conflicts among the crew."

Fred switched off the screen.

"What'd you do that for?" yelled Buzz, hitting Fred on the shoulder. "I just thought of a good line to tell him. Try and get him back."

Fred realigned the viewscreen controls and a thin, shadowy figure with grey hair and a long face appeared. "Use the force, Luke!"

"It's just that old guy again. I wish we could figure out where those transmissions are coming from." Fred spun the dials again. "It doesn't matter though, I still think that our whole lifestyle is too... unlifelike. Take those people we met on that last planet, for instance."

"Oh, the Bikini-Clad Warrior Maidens from Rhylanor VII?" Buzz nudged his crewmate with an elbow. "Some hot mamas there, eh?"

"That's just it," said Fred. "They weren't real."

"They sure looked real to me."

"Real women are capable of carrying on intelligent conversations. Real women don't hang around holding spears waiting for off-worlders to drop by and attempt to colonize them. Real women get cold if they live on a glacial planet wearing nothing but leather bikinis."

"What are you trying to say, Fred?"

"I'm saying that everywhere we go, everything we do, is a cliché. Look at you. Look at how you're dressed!"

Buzz glanced down at his silver jumpsuit, purple lightning bolt sewn on his chest. He felt the lining of his full-length scarlet cape, then reached up to his gold-plated helmet, complete with a tiny wing over each ear. "What's wrong with this?"

"Not very practical, is it?"

"No," answered Buzz, "but I'm easily recognized in a crowd."

"And that Princess Lehigh we met! The one who spent four months in the jungle without messing up her hair. Just exactly what was she the princess of, anyway?"

Buzz thought about this a moment. "I haven't the faintest idea."

"You see? We're living our lives in some weird stereotypical fantasy. There's no meaning to any of it." Fred stood up, banging his head on the spacial air-conditioning unit.

"Maybe you're right," said Buzz, fingering his blaster.

"And stop fingering your blaster! It makes me nervous."

Buzz made up his mind. "Well, if you're not going to help me out of this situation, that's the way it's going to be. Chonk and I will do it ourselves." He flicked the intercom lever, signalling the six-foot hair-covered alien manning the laser turret. "Chonk, are you ready for action?"

"Freunde, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuer-trunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!"

"What the heck was that?" yelled Fred.

"I don't believe it," muttered Buzz. "That overgrown hamster is back there singing along with the ominous background music."

"That does it. I'm leaving." Fred stormed out of the cockpit, heading for the escape pod.

The speaker crackled, and Admiral Gonzoll reappeared. "Could we get on with it? I have a luncheon date in an hour."

"Be with you in just a bit, Commander." Buzz turned a dial on the screen.

"Use the force, Lu--"

Buckburn switched the screen off. Indicator lights told him that the escape pod had just launched. He sat back in his chair. He took off his helmet, turning it round and round in his hands, staring blankly at the plastic wings. "Those warrior maidens were airheads, come to think of it." Buzz reached out for the screen controller, but paused. Slowly he set the dials to signal the Imperium command ship.

"You'll never take me alive, salamander breath! Long live our rebellious cause!"


I know, I know, it sounds an awful lot like Zapp Brannigan and Kif from Futurama. Check the date again: this story was written in 1985!



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